The History of the Ka ‘bah


Al-Ka‘bah, in English, means the Cube: it is 43 feet in height, 42 feet and 2 inches in length, and 36 feet and 2 inches in width. Originally, it lacked a roof, and nowadays it contains a roof. It also contains a gate to enter. It is elegantly covered with a silk and cotton drape. It is at the center of Al-Masjid Al-Haram, in Makkah, in Saudi Arabia. The ancient name of Makkah was Bakkah, and the ancient name of the region was Paran or Faran. This is the First House built on earth for the worship of Allah.

“The first House [of worship] established for the people was at Bakkah, full of blessing and guidance for all the worlds.” [Surah Al ‘Imran, 3:96-97]

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Ibn Kathir states, in Stories of the Prophets, that the First House was built on a hillock, as a decree of Allah, so the torrent from rain or flood could pass on the side of the hillock without affecting it. Angel Jibril brought the stone and engraved it in the corner of Ka‘bah. Its color was originally white.

The Ka‘bah is also called al-Bait al-Atiq, because it survived (u’tiqa) the Great Flood during the time Nuh [recorded by Ikrimah], and because it was never conquered by any tyrant [recorded by Khusayf]. Thus, it is a symbol of freedom and a symbol free from human and natural subjugation. It is a freedom that extends to the entire creation, be it an insect, a tree, a twig, or even a pebble, since they all engage in the remembrance of Allah. It is a place of self-restraint, and an institution of self-amendments.

Spiritual implication

The Ka‘bah is the prototype of al-Bait al-Ma‘mur, the House of Allah located in the seventh heaven, above which is the Throne of Allah. Al-Bait al-Ma‘mur, the Frequented House, where seventy thousand angels make tawaf every day, never to return again, and this has been continuing since the beginning of the creation and will continue until the Day of Judgment.

When the Prophet was taken for Mi‘raj, he was shown al-Bait al-Ma‘mur, in the seventh heaven, by Jibril. He relates,

“Then I was shown al-Bait al-Ma‘mur, and I asked Jibril about it. He said, “This is al-Bait al-Ma‘mur, where seventy thousand angels daily perform the prayers, and when they leave, they never return to it.” (Bukhari no. 3207 and Muslim no. 164)

The entire creation, be it animate or non-animate, be it an electron (or smaller), a pebble, an animal, a non-moving creation, a vine, a tree, a star, or a planet, are continuously engaged in the remembrance of Allah, but we may not understand their language and their mode and time of remembrance.

“Whatever is in the heavens and the earth glorifies Allah. He is the Almighty, All Wise.” [Surah al-Hadid, 57:1]

“The seven heavens, the earth, and all that is in them glorifies Him. There is nothing that does not glorify His praise; but you do not understand their glorifying. He is indeed the Most Forbearing, the Most Forgiving.” [Surah al-Isra’, 17:44]

Allah created the jinn and people for sole purpose of worshipping Him (see Q, 51:56), and not because He is in need of our worship. This is because, for the creation, such as humanity and the jinn, who are given limited freedom of choice, worship is the means for seeking forgiveness for all the mistakes and sins that we commit and to achieve salvation from punishment. In fact, Allah does not need our praise, because He is He is Self-Sufficient, free of need (see Q, 112:2). It is we who need Allah to protect us, to sustain us, and to guide us.

“People, it is you who are in need of Allah, whereas Allah is the Self Sufficient, the Praiseworthy.” [Surah Fatir, 35:15]

“But if you disbelieve, then know that to Allah belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on the earth. Allah is Self Sufficient, Praiseworthy.” [Surah al-Nisa’, 4:131]

Building of the Ka‘bah

There is uncertainty about who built the First House of worship. Some believe that it was built by Prophet Adam with the help of Jibril [See A Guide for Hajj and ‘Umrah, Matthews, Anis Daud, page 17], and some others believe that it was built by Jibril alone. (Allah knows best!)

Adam, the father of humanity, and Hawwah, the mother of humanity, were guided to the site of the Ka‘bah. Angel Jibril helped Adam to build the Ka‘bah and taught him the rites of Hajj. This is how the rites and routes of Hajj were established.

After Adam’s death, and about the time of Nuh (Noah), people began to worship idols. They refused to respond to Nuh’s call to tawhid. After 950 years of preaching, Nuh had only a few followers, and he was disappointed and lost hope in their salvation. Therefore, they were punished with the Catastrophic Flood, and Nuh and his followers were saved in the Ark. After the flood, Nuh and his son Sam, re-established the practice of tawhid on the earth. However, as time passed, the subsequent generation reverted to polytheism, and so Allah also sent Ibrahim to call humanity to tawhid.

“Among those who followed him (i.e., Nuh) was Ibrahim.” [Surah al-Saffat, 37:83]

“We indeed sent Nuḥ and Ibrahim, and placed in their progeny prophethood and Scripture.” [Surah al-Hadid, 57:26]

Guided by Jibril,, Ibrahim came to Paran (the old name of Saudi Arabia) along with his wife Hager and young son Isma‘il, and was shown the site of the Ancient House on the hillock.

“[Remember] when We showed Ibrāhīm the site of the House [saying], ‘Do not associate anything with Me, and purify My House for those who circumambulate it, those who stand, those who bow, and those who prostrate themselves.’” [Surah al-Hajj, 22:26]

He decided to settle his family next to the site where the Ancient House once stood. Hagar accepted Allah’s decree and stayed there with her infant child. Isma‘il grew up and became a part of the sprawling community.

Ibrahim would often visit Hagar and Isma‘il and provide for them. During one such visit, when Isma’il had grown and was able to perform strenuous work, Prophet Ibrahim and Isma‘il were commanded to purify the Sacred House (of polytheism), sanctify it for Allah’s worship, and make the city safe for those who would seek peace and security.

“We commanded Ibrāhīm and Isma‘il, ‘Sanctify My House for those who walk around it, those who stay there for worship, and those who bow down and prostrate themselves.’” [Surah al-Baqarah, 2:125]

Rebuilding of the Ka‘bah

Ibrahim and Isma‘il began to rebuild the Sacred House at the hillock, where the al-Baitul al-Atiq was. As they worked, Ibrahim was supplicating to Allah to make the city of Makkah a sanctuary of peace and safety, and to provide the people with sustenance from fruits, permissible sustenance, to purify the people, and keep them spiritually pure.

“Ibrāhīm said, ‘Lord, make this land a place of security and provide its people with fruits; those who believe in Allah and the Last Day.’ He answered, ‘As for the unbeliever, I will leave him in contentment for a while, and then I will drag him to the punishment of the Fire; a wretched destination.’” [Surah al-Baqarah, 2:126]

Ibrahim was laying the bricks, while Isma’il was bringing the bricks to him. As the height of the wall begain to rise higher, Ibrahim stood upon a clay-stone to reach the top and so it was embedded with his foot-prints, which became one of the symbols for Hajj today, the Maqam Ibrahim. It is said that when an area of the wall was finished, the stone along with him, would move to the next area. As they were building the wall, they were supplicating to Allah to accept their service.

“When Ibrhim was raising the foundations of the House along with Isma‘il, [supplicating], ‘Our Lord, accept this from us. You are indeed the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.’” [Surah al-Bqarah, 2:127]

The Ka‘bah Prior to the Advent of Islam

Prior to advent of Islam, the Ka‘bah was a holy site that various Bedouin tribes of the Arabian Peninsula would visit. Once every lunar year, the Bedouins would make pilgrimage to Makkah and circumambulate the Sacred House. Each tribe had its own statue, beside the common ones of Lat, Uzza, Manat, and Hubal. There were 350 to 360 statues in and around the Ka‘bah. During that time, Makkah was also the trade center for the Bedouins. Setting aside any tribal feuds, they would worship their gods in the Ka‘bah and trade with each other in the city. Various sculptures and paintings were held inside the Ka‘bah.

Immediate prior to the advent of Islam and the prophethood of Muhammad, the House needed to be rebuilt. This rebuilding was also partaking in by the Prophet by carrying bricks and playing a pivotal role in placing the Black Stone back in its original location, which avoided a potential and dangerous communal dispute that could have arisen among the leaders of different tribes of Quraysh.

The cause for dispute was the Black Stone, which was considered as divinely sent, and so whoever placed it back in its original location would be attain great honor. In order to resolve the dispute, the leaders agreed that they would leave the decision to the first person to walk into the Ka‘bah at that time, and it happened to be Muhammad, the most trustworthy person among the Arabs. He was thus given the honor, and he resolved the dispute through his wisdom that was granted to Him by Allah. He had them bring a garment and placed the stone in the middle of it and had each tribe hold a corner of the garment and lift the stone with it, thus the honor was equally shared by the tribes. The Prophet then took the Black Stone from the garment and placed it in its position.

Historically, the Ka‘bah was a rectangular cube without a roof. Over the centuries, the Masjid al-Haram and the Ka‘bah have undergone many renovations, as the ruling authorities of Makkah changed hands. The last renovation took place after the Ka‘bah was damaged by heavy rains and flooding in 1626 CE, during the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Murad the IV, when the walls of the Ka‘bah collapsed and the Mosque was damaged. The same year, it was rebuilt with granite stones from Makkah, and the Mosque was renovated. (See History of Ka‘bah)

During the early time of Islam, the leadership of Ka‘bah was in the hands of the various clans of the Quraysh, whose leaders were Abu Lahab, Abu Jahl (d.624), Walid bin Mughira (d.622), Umayyah bin Khalaf (d.624), Nazar bin Haris (d.624), Uqbah bin Abi Muayt (d.624), Abu Sufyan (d. 653), and the brothers of Rabi’ah. They were the staunchest against the Prophet. They knew that he brought the truth, but they still refused to accept the Message of Islam. Most of them died during the Battle of Badr in 624 CE, while Abu Sufyan became Muslim after the Treaty of Hudaybiyah.

Makkah after the Conquest

The Prophet once had a dream that he had entered the Sacred Mosque at Makkah, and so he set out on a journey to perform hajj. However, he was prevented by the disbelievers of Makkah that year, but they entered into the a treaty with him, the Treaty of Hudaybiyah, in which he would be permitted to enter Makkah the following year to perform the Hajj.

“Allah has certainly fulfilled the true vision that He showed to His Messenger in truth. You will certainly enter the Sacred Mosque, if Allah wills, in security, your heads shaved or your hair cut short, having no fear. He knew what you knew not, and He granted besides that a near victory.” [Surah al-Fath, 48:27]

During the conquest of Makkah, the Prophet entered it almost unopposed. The city, that had treated him so cruelly, which had driven him and his followers out, forced him to take refuge among strangers, and had sought his life and that of his followers now lay at his mercy. Those who had persecuted him were now at his feet.

The Prophet entered the city on his favorite camel, al-Qaswa, with Usama Ibn Zaid sitting behind him, while reciting Surah al-Fath,

“We have indeed given you a manifest victory. That Allah may forgive you your former sins and the future ones, complete His favor on you, and guide you to the straight path; and that Allah may help you with a mighty help.” [Surah al-Fath, 48:1-3]

The Muslim Army entered the city unpretentiously and peacefully. They did not rob any house or insult any man or woman. The Prophet granted a general amnesty for the entire population of Makkah, except for four criminals, who were sentenced with justice: they were Ikrimah bin Abu Jahl, Abdullah bin Khatal, Abdullah bin Sa‘d bin Abi al-Sarh, and Miqyas bin Subabah. Of them Abdullah bin Khatal and Miqyas bi Subabah were killed on the order of the Prophet, and Ikrimah bin Abi Jahl and Abdullah bin Sa‘d bin Abi al-Sarh accepted Islam.

He ordered the destruction of all idols and pagan images of worship. Three hundred and sixty idols, which were erected in Ka‘bah were thrown out and destroyed. He himself participated in the destruction of the idols while reciting loudly, “Allah is great! Truth has come and falsehood has vanished; verily falsehood is fleeting.”

“Say, ‘Truth has come, and falsehood has vanished. Falsehood will always vanish.’” [Surah al-Isra, 17:81]

After cleaning out the abomination of the idolators, the Prophet delivered a speech from al-Safwa. He assembled the people and emphasizing among them brotherhood and its distinguishing criteria in the words of the Qur’an.

“People, We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another. Surely, the most honorable among you with Allah is the one who is most conscious of Him. Allah is All Knowing, All Aware.” [Surah al-Hujurat, 49:13]

His call to tawhid removed any tribal rivalry, and a great multitude of people came and accepted Islam, giving the pledge of allegiance to the Prophet. He invited the Quraysh and those who gathered to worship the Lord of the Sacred House.

“So let them worship the Lord of this House, who has fed them against hunger and secured them from fear.” [Surah al-Quraysh, 106:3-4]

Umar, acting as the deputy, administered the oath. The people bound them to not have love for any deity other than Allah, to obey the Prophet, and to abstain from theft, adultery, fornication, infanticide, lying, and backbiting.

“Prophet, when believing women come to you to give you the pledge that they will not associate anything with Allah, will not steal, will not commit illegal sexual intercourse, will not kill their children, will not bring a slander that they forged between their hands and feet, and will not disobey you in any good, then accept their pledge, and ask Allah’s forgiveness for them. Allah is truly Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [Surah al-Mumtahana, 60:12]

During his stay in Makkah, the Prophet dispatched his disciples in every direction to preach Islam to the Bedouins and to call them to Allah’s true religion. He sent smaller detachments to the neighboring tribes to destroy the idols of al-Uzza, al-Lat, Suwa‘a, and Manat, who were the famous idols of those tribes. He commanded them to carry out the injunctions in the most peaceful manner.

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Mohammed Siraj Uddin

Mohammed S. Uddin graduated from medical school in 1968 and completed his training in internal medicine and gastroenterology in New York. He taught in medical school and practiced gastroenterology for nearly four decades. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology. He is a fellow of the Americal College of Gastroenterology and the American College of Physicians.Full BIO

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